director of IT, Hong Kong Disneyland

Hong Kong residents as well as mainland Chinese tourists anticipate the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland three months hence. As Disney’s “cast members” work to create the Disney brand’s classic “magical experience,” Noble Coker-Hong Kong Disneyland’s director of IT-shares with CWHK’s Sheila Lam the challenges of building an IT operation from scratch.

CWHK: What’s your latest project at Hong Kong Disneyland?

Noble Coker (NC): The busiest work [at the moment] is to integrate all the systems in the business environment. There are about 11 businesses that work within the theme park. It’s not just a technology job-it’s also a business process effort.We look at ourselves as both “dreamers and doers,” and it’s hard to find IT people who enjoy that dual role. Noble Coker>Text Right now I have about 40 people in my team, but we will have to double that before the park opens. I interviewed everyone that comes into the team, because it’s critical for the personality to fit with the organization.

CWHK: Challenges of building an IT operation in Hong Kong?

NC: The biggest challenge is putting the team together. Most people don’t get the chance to build a large organization from scratch. The technology challenges pale in comparison.

But Hong Kong has a great pool of talent — I’m very impressed with the level of education, motivation and excitement from the applicants. The hard part is to find the right people to fit the Disney environment [because] even in the IT team, our first focus is on the guests.

Finding staff able to embrace that vision isn’t easy. We look at ourselves as both “dreamers and doers,” and it’s hard to find IT people who enjoy that dual role.

CWHK: How do IT operations at Hong Kong Disneyland differ from operations at other Disneylands?

NC:: A theme park is like a restaurant kitchen. A restaurant in the US is different from one here in Hong Kong-in a Chinese restaurant kitchen, the way they operate at the back is very different.

People in Hong Kong might specify ingredients in their order [but] in the US, if I order a hamburger [and say] “I want my bun with this much flour and this much yeast,” the chef in the back would say “You’re nuts! There’s no way I can do it.” But people here [will adapt] quickly, and give people what they want. The technology is, obviously, to support and adopt that process, so the way we apply technology changes.

Disney’s approach to Hong Kong Disneyland is to make the best local decision first, and worry about the group second. This freedom has been very empowering to our IT operations. Of course there are process standards or project standards from the corporation-we have all sorts of management and communication standards, but it’s not [specific on] the use of technology or specific applications. This is something I would highlight as one of Disney’s strengths.

CWHK: How do you make use of IT and the freedom to better serve your guest and cast members?

NC: The use of IT in the park is about seamlessly integrating it into the [guests’] experience. That means when you come into a park, you don’t think “Wow! That’s a great IT experience.” You think, “Wow! How do they do that?” It’s all about creating a magical experience.

We even created the dirt around the park, because we aim to block out the external environment. When you enter Hong Kong Disneyland, you [feel like you have] entered into another place. So, the way we apply IT and technology in general is that we put it into our environment.

So, to answer your question, I must keep some things back to maintain the surprise. When you come in, you want people to say, “Wow! That’s magic!”

CWHK: What’s your philosophy in managing vendors? Any plan for outsourcing?

NC:: We do work with vendors and local SIs and it is critical that we have a transparent process. What we need from vendors [is for them] to know our business challenges and provide us with a solution. What I find most vendors do is that they provide a solution and then look for challenges within the company.

Second, we look at their talent and skills. Thirdly, the vendors need to understand our complex environment. Many people think it’s a simple system, but our systems are very closely integrated, so it’s like a chain effect-it’s not always as simple as they think. We also need them to value our brand, which is critical for our culture and business. The vendor should be able to protect our brand and intellectual property rights. And lastly I look at price-I always ask for a Disney discount.

In terms of outsourcing, it’s something I have been thinking about. But, what outsourcing needs is first to define the current environment, and then compare that with the outsourcing option to make a value proposition before you make a decision. However, our current environment is not established yet, there are no transactions happening yet, so we cannot make that value proposition at the moment.

CWHK: How do you find working with local SIs?

NC: At the beginning when I first met with them, I have a feeling that many were transaction-based. Their attitude was to sell us the product, the service, but not [develop] a partnership relationship. I think this is very different in the US, where vendors often [value] a partnership role.

But we understand no one here has ever worked with a theme park before. Therefore we spend a lot of time educating them about our environment, explaining them about our business, and find out what they can do to help us.

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